Europa League – Group G
Leicester City 3 vs Zorya Luhansk 0
King Power Stadium – 22nd October 2020
Report by Colin Murrant
On Thursday Nights, not under lights,
We watched in Cranoe, we watched in Hose….
… and countless other locations across Leicestershire, and beyond. There is something very special about European nights at Leicester, maybe because they do not come around that often, maybe because playing foreign teams in proper competitions is much more enjoyable than sterile pre-season friendlies. In football terms, fans being unable to go this match, The Foxes debut in the Europa League, was the biggest miss of all since fans were barred from attending back in March.
City, who came into the game on the back of two disappointing Premier League home fixtures, made two change with Fuchs replacing Justin and Maddison replacing Pérez. The visitors came into the game in relatively poor form sitting 9th in the Ukrainian Premier League although having drawn against the top two Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev and Shakhatar.
Any preconceptions that Zorya would sit back and defend were quickly banished as they took the game to City who were defending the Spion Kop end. Nothing much was happening in terms of good chances as Zorya’s high press game was keeping City struggling to get attacks mounted. On 22 minutes a long ball across the City box from Zunev found Kabaev in acres of space, he shot but the ball struck Schmeichel’s trailing leg and the danger was averted. City quickly broke and Iheanacho found Maddison who put the ball in the net however, the City midfielder was clearly offside and the goal was disallowed.
City were beginning to get more of the ball and just before the half hour mark, they took the lead. Iheanacho pushed the ball to Barnes who, from the left-hand corner of the box curled the ball towards the far post. The ball beat goalkeeper Shevchenko but rebounded from the woodwork. A melee ensued and Iheanacho was first to react and managed to keep the ball alive as he fell to the floor, his second touch managed to move the ball a few inches but it was enough to reach Maddison who gleefully side-footed into the net from three yards. Immediately the thought was VAR and was there any infringement in the build up to the goal but, with the realisation that there was no VAR, City fans could relax.
On 36 minutes Iheanacho linked up with Barnes and the City winger went through but his shot was straight at Shevchenko who saved comfortably. It was City on top now, looking more relaxed. Schmeichel relaxed too much though as his casual clearance travelled ten yards out of the box straight to Ivanisenya, a goal seemed inevitable but the forward’s early shot was wide of the upright; a real let off for City.
With half-time approaching, The Foxes went close as a Praet shot was blocked by Vernydub. Minutes later, City got the crucial second goal, and what a delightful goal it was. Good play in midfield led to Iheanacho receiving the ball with his back to goal and just outside the penalty area. As Barnes ran forward towards him, Iheanacho brilliantly fed him with a back-heel pass. Barnes pace took him clear of the defenders and through on goal and he lofted the ball to the right of the keeper to give City a two-goal advantage at the break.
The second half started with City getting an early chance as a pass from Barnes found Maddison on the edge of the box, his dummy and deft touch gave him space but his shot was deflected away from goal. On 55 minutes, a Maddison corner was met by Fofana who headed wide, although the height the centre-back leaped, and the neck movement to power the header were reminiscent of Walsh, Huth, Elliott et al.
City were looking comfortable now and just past the hour Praet fed Maddison who cushioned the ball, let it run across him and curled the ball just wide. This was to be Maddison’s last play of the night as he was replaced by Ünder: he had been looking bright and getting back to his best with another hour of football under his belt. The hold up play of Iheanacho, and his keenness to go looking for the ball had been a feature of the match, all he was lacking was a goal: on 66 minutes he got his reward. A poor ball across the face of the box from Ivanisenya found Iheanacho, he turned away from his marker and shot into the bottom corner to the right of Shevchenko, the relief for the forward was evident as he fell to his knees and looked and pointed to the heavens.
Changes to the City team were made as legs were preserved for future matches. City were not much troubled now but the number of changes made had reduced their fluency and threat. Ünder took a free kick that sailed well over the bar but showed glimpses that he might get the fans out of their seats: at first sight his style looks more Knockaert than Mahrez.
Three points in the bag and a good performance after a slow start. Brendan Rodgers said after the match “It was a very good win, it’s nice to get the points on the board and a clean sheet. We had to work hard, there’s areas where we can get better”. There were good performances all round, most notably from Maddison, Fofana, Iheanacho who was probably pipped for Man-of-the-Match by Barnes. Barnes pace and directness were a joy to behold. Fofana looked absolute class again with so much potential, although he will be more thoroughly tested against better opposition: we should know more about the level he is currently capable of after Aubameyang and Arsenal on Sunday.
So, the first Europa league match for City was a success, European debuts for several players and first European goals for Maddison and Barnes. If the match itself was a first for Leicester in the Europa League, then so was a City fixture having a female referee. Stéphanie Frappart from France had an excellent game, letting the game flow. In all truth the game was not a difficult one to referee but she was always up with play. It was also a joy to view a match without VAR, not used in the Europa League until the knock-out stages.
When the TV cameras played back incidents, any possible contentious decisions made by Frappart were seen to prove her correct. Incidentally, Frappart became the first woman to referee a major men’s European match when she took charge of the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea. Some City fans may remember that her performance was in stark contrast to her French compatriot, Remis Harrel, who refereed the match at Filbert Street against Atletico Madrid, in 1997. During that match M. Harrel denied three blatant penalty claims for fouls committed on Muzzy Izzet, and then sent off Garry Parker for taking a free kick too quickly.
So, a night of firsts for Leicester City, but hopefully not lasts. The team play AEK Athens next week followed by Braga from Portugal; wouldn’t it have been nice to be under the lights in those cities.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Castagne (82), Fofana, Evans (82), Fuchs, Tielemans (71), Mendy, Praet, Maddison (65), Barnes, Iheanacho (71).
Zorya Luhanska: Shevchenko, Favorov (76), Vernydub, Cvek, Khomchenovyski (76), Ivanisenya, Nazaryna, Kochergin (85), Yurchenko, Kabaev (64), Lunev (65).
Substitutes: Rufati (76), Perovic (64), Gladkiy (65), Abu Hanna, Vasilj, Gryn (85), Matsapura, Ciganiks (76).
Referee: Stéphanie Frappart Attendance: Thousands on TV
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation